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1. Writing Goals: Reduxing the Redux of the Redux

This post is a thing that I do every so often. It started in 2006 when I posted my writing goals. I updated it in 2008 with the publication of How To Ditch Your Fairy and then again in 2009 after Liar came out. And then in 2012 in anticipation of the publication of Team Human.

These goals of mine are not stuff like Become NYT Bestselling Author or Win Nobel Prize.1 Winning prizes, making bestseller lists, having your books turned into genius TV shows are not things anyone can control,2 but I can control what I write. Not only can I control that, I do control that. So that’s what my goals are. Simple, eh?3

The following are categories I plan to publish a book in. When I publish a book in a given category I cross the category out. I also randomly add categories when they occur to me. Mostly, to give me the pleasure of crossing them out.4

First the genres:

  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Crime (what some call mysteries)
  • Thriller
  • Fantasy
  • SF
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • Mainstream or litfic5
  • Western
  • Problem novel
  • YA
  • Gothic
  • Dystopia
  • Adult romance

The reason I am reduxing my writing goals post is because I just struck off another category: Historical. Woo hoo! Yes, with the publication of Razorhurst, set in Sydney in 1932, I have finally published an historical novel.6 And there was much rejoicing. I adore historicals. In fact, the very first novel I ever wrote was an historical set in thirteenth century Cambodia and never published. So this is a big crossing off day for me.

I have also added two new categories: adult romance and dystopia. Before any of you groan about how you’re totally over YA dystopia already I have a really awesome idea for one. In fact, I’ve already written a short story set in that world and it will be out late this year or early next. Very excited about turning it into a novel. But even if I don’t write that novel I’m still going to cross off dystopia when that short story is available.

As for adult romance. Read this post here and you will see me realising that adult romances are completely different to YA romances and that I really want to write one.

All I have left is adult romance, dystopia, western, horror and gothic. Some have said that Liar is horror. I do not agree. I wasn’t scared once writing it. The few times I have tried to write horror I have scared myself so badly I have had to stop writing. When I publish one of those I’ll cross it off the list.

I’m also aiming to publish books that use the following povs:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited
  • Omniscient

The observant amongst you will notice that every item on this list is now crossed off. Yes, indeed, Razorhurst does make use of the omniscient point of view. I have conquered an entire list! Let there be rejoicing!

Penultimately:

  • Standalone
  • Trilogy
  • Series
  • Collaboration

A series is a sequence of more than three books that: 1) have the same character or set of characters but each book tells a separate story. You could argue that Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe books are a series of that kind. 2) are a large story that is told across more than three books.

Some people classify trilogies as a series but I think they’re their own thing. I also admit that that’s very hair splitting and may be heavily influenced by my desire to have one extra thing on this list. Hey, it’s my list. I get to do that.

I suspect the 1930s NYC novel is a series. I’ve been working on it since forever and it shows no signs of being finished. So one day, maybe, I’ll be able to cross series off the list.

And lastly a whole new list:

  • Witch
  • Fairy
  • Vampire
  • Zombie
  • Ghost
  • Siren
  • Psychopath
  • Werewolf
  • Demon
  • Fallen angel
  • Goblin
  • Troll
  • Evil piano7

For those unfamiliar with my oeuvre the Magic or Madness trilogy was about witches. There were, obviously, fairies in How To Ditch Your Fairy and if you don’t think those fairies count then I wrote about more traditional fairies in the short story, “Thinner than Water.” I knocked over both vampires and zombies in Team Human. I don’t count the zombies in Zombies v Unicorns because I did not write those stories. I merely edited them.

I get to cross off ghosts because there are bazillions of them in my newest novel, Razorhurst. I am also, more controversially, crossing off siren because I believe the femme fatale is a kind of siren and Dymphna Campbell, one of the main characters in Razorhurst is most definitely a femme fatale. I’ll be very curious to hear your opinions on that those of you who have read Razorhurst.

I am aware that some of you are going to say that there are two more on that list that I could cross off. However, I have decided I can’t do that because in that particular book it is up to the reader to decide if the main character is an x or a y or possibly a z or possibly none of those. There is no definitive answer thus they all remain on the list. I will brook no argument on that topic.

My happiness at crossing stuff of my list is great. Have any of youse crossed anything off your writing goals list of late?

TL:DR My new book Razorhurst means I get to cross historical, omniscient, ghost and siren off my lists. Let the dancing commence!

  1. Though I would make no objections should such a thing happen. None at all.
  2. Well, not unless they’re hugely wealthy or know hugely wealthy people who are willing to buy gazillions of copies of their books from New York Times reporting stores. But then you wind up with the * meaning this book QUITE POSSIBLY CHEATED.
  3. Well, except that I’m only counting them once they get published, which is not actually something I can control. It’s something I hope (fervently) will continue to happen.
  4. No, it’s not cheating. I made up this system. I set the rules.
  5. You know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis. Though I have never written such a book nor will I. But enough of my readers declared Liar to be literature that I decided to cross it off the list.
  6. Razorhurst will be out in the US next March.
  7. This one is for Courtney Summers.

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2. Getting Started

I have a writing problem which is shared by many writers: I struggle to get started.

I wrote about this problem a bit way back in 2009 when I confessed to almost destroying my professional writing career before it even started. The first six months of being a full-time freelance writer was one great big procrastinatory guilt-ridden hell.

Since then I have reigned it in so that it’s only a struggle at the beginning of a first draft.

For the first week or so on a new book it is a major effort for me to look away from whatever online or offline spectacle is calling to me in order to start typing. I’ll have the open scrivener project with the initial idea jotted down. Girl who always lies. And I’ll think, well, do I know enough about lying? Maybe I should look up what recent research there’s been? So I do that. Then I accidentally look at twitter. Or someone’s blog where a flamewar has started. Then my twenty minute break reminder will buzz. So I have to get up and stretch and someone will text me and I’ll realise we haven’t chatted in ages and call them. And as I walk around the flat chatting I’ll realise that I haven’t emptied the dishwasher and once it’s emptied I have to load it with the dirties. And then I’ll be hungry and have to make second breakfast and in doing so I’ll notice that some of the parsley in the garden is going to flower and I’ll pick those bits and kill some bugs and check for weeds and make sure the passionfruit isn’t growing over to our next door neighbour’s deck. And then I’ll realise we need pine nuts for the dinner we’re going to make so I have to up to the shops.

And like that. At which point the sun will be setting and it’s time to down tools and I’ll have written precisely no words of the new novel I swore I’d start that day.

The next day there’ll be more of the same. And that will keep on until for some miraculous reason I start typing actual words that turn into actual coherent sentences of novel-ness.

The next day the struggle will be a little bit less bad and every day will be better than the day before until I’m on a roll and the novel is actually being written.

By the time I’m heading to the climax and then the end of the book it’s really hard to not write.

It goes like that unless I take a break for a holiday, or get sick, or for some other reason stop work for four days or more. When I return to the book it’s as if I’m starting all over again. Aargh! It takes several days, sometimes more than a week, to get back into the swing again. Drives me nuts.

I have developed several methods of dealing with this annoying tendency of mine.

Procrastination is good

The first is to simply accept that procrastinating is part of my process. Often I’m unable to get started on a new novel because I’m not ready. I haven’t found the way in: the right voice, the right setting, the right starting point. I haven’t done enough research. All that futzing around is me finding a way in. It’s necessary and without it I can’t write my novels.

Though sometimes I’m just flat out wasting time. RSI has meant that I do way less of that online. I consider that to be a blessing because it pushes me out to the garden or out of the house altogether a lot more often. Nothing better for thinking things through than being away from my computer. Long walks, I love you.

Research

Not having done enough research is often the reason why I can’t get started. I need to know more about that world and those characters and what their problem is.

Before I could really get going with Liar I had to find out a lot more about lying. Why people lie, what kinds of lies they tell, the difference between compulsive and pathological lying.

Same with the 1930s New York City novel. I needed to know so much more about the city back then, about the USA back then, about how the USA wound up where it was in the early 1930s. So the idea kicked around for quite a long time before I could write anything down.

Sometimes a novel springs from research I don’t realise I’m doing. I’ll be reading a non-fiction book or listening to a fascinating radio show or see a great documentary and it will give me a great idea. That’s how my sekrit project novel, what I just finished first draft of, got started.1

Many books at once

I have learned to always jot down new ideas. For me they’re rarely ideas, per se, more often they’re a fragment or beginning. That way I always have a novel to turn to when I’m stuck on the one I’m supposed to be writing.

The first words I wrote of Liar are:

I’m a liar. I don’t do it on purpose. Well, okay, yeah, I do. But it’s not like I have a choice. It’s just what comes out of my mouth. If my mouth is closed then I’m cool, no lies at all.

That did not make it into the book. I don’t even know whose voice that is. It’s not that of Micah, Liar‘s protagonist. But I jotted that down in 2005 as the first spark of the book that was published as Liar two years later.

At the time I had already started, but not finished, the book that was to become How To Ditch Your Fairy and was on deadline to finish Magic Lessons, the second book in the Magic or Madness trilogy. I was also hard at work on the Daughters of Earth anthology. It was not a good time to start a new book, but I was stuck on Magic Lessons: so the day before it was due with my US publisher I started writing HTDYF.

Yes, I was a bit late with Magic Lessons. From memory, I think I was no more than two weeks late, which is not too bad. Starting HTDYF when I did meant that after I’d sent off the first draft of Magic Lessons I could get back to work on it. And in between ML rewrites and copyedits and proofs and having to write the last book in the trilogy I kept going back to it. It was a wonderful respite from what I was supposed to be writing.2

Turns out that what works best for me is to always have more than one novel on the go. Right at this moment I have recently finished the first draft of my sekrit project novel. But I have ten other novels that I’ve started, ranging from the 1930s New York City novel, which is more than 100,000 words long, to a rough idea for a novel of 126 words.

If I get stuck with the book I planned to work on I turn to one of the other books. Often I’m writing back and forth on several different books at once until one of them takes off. Sometimes I’m totally unable to decide and poll my blog readers or ask my agent or Scott. That’s how I went with Liar back in 2007 and put down the lodger novel and the plastic surgery novel both of which I know I’ll get back to some day. Actually I got back to the lodger one a few years ago before it was swamped by the 1930s NYC novel and then Team Human.

If I get an idea for a new book I always jot it down no matter where I am with the main novel I’m working on. Sometimes that novel takes over. The novel I just finished came to me very strongly a year ago when I was feeling overwhelmed by the sprawling NYC 1930s novel which had just hit 100,000 words with no visible sign of ending. I hadn’t, in fact, gotten up to what I thought would be the book’s first incident. ONE HUNDRED THOUSAND WORDS and I wasn’t at what I thought was the beginning. AARGH. In my panic I started a whole other novel.3

In conclusion: There may be a good reason you can’t get started. Procrastination can be your friend. It’s okay to flibbertigibbet from one novel to another and back again and then to another and so on. Other writers will have other solutions and processes. Do whatever it is that works best for you.4 Zombies should not, in fact, be added to all stories. Just the ones that need zombies.

  1. It’s a sekrit project for no particular reason. I just really enjoy having sekrit projects. Makes me feel like a spy. What? I get to have fun!
  2. That’s one of the many reasons I don’t like writing books under contract. A contract for one book just makes all the uncontracted novel ideas seem that much more shiny.
  3. Co-incidentally, or not really, me and Sarah Rees Brennan started writing Team Human at another point when I was overwhelmed by the NYC novel. I suspect there will be one or two more other novels before I finish the damn thing.
  4. Unless it involves hurting anyone.

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3. What I’m Doing This Friday

I’ll be here:

Friday, 16 October, 7:00 pm:
Voracious Reader
1997 Palmer Ave

Larchmont, NY

It’s a very short train ride from Grand Central so if you’re in NYC and wish to hear me be witty and wise you can do so! It’s even closer if you’re in Westchester County and thereabouts, (which you would probably know if you were in Westchester County or thereabouts).

I’ll be talking about Liar, writing and life, and answering all your questions. In fact, I have decided that this will be the event where I tell the true ending of Liar. So if you don’t attend you will never know! Though I did say I would reveal all in Memphis and Nashville yet I didn’t. But I’m quite sure this time will be different.

In other news if you are anywhere near Memphis I left behind giant piles of signed books here:

Davis-Kidd Booksellers
387 Perkins Ext

Memphis, TN

So if you want my name scribbled on your copy of Liar. This is the place to go. I swear I signed about a million of them. I also signed several How To Ditch Your Fairy and Magic or Madness trilogy paperbacks.

In other news, I’ll be in Seattle and Porland next week. Details are here.

I cannot wait to meet you all!

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4. On Hating Female Characters

For a while now I’ve been thinking about how many readers seem to hate female characters more than they hate male. Or rather that the same behaviour from a male character is okay but someone inexcusable in a female. Sarah Rees Brennan has written about this phenomenon most eloquently:

Let us think of the Question of Harry Potter. I do not mean to bag on the character of Harry Potter: I am very fond of him.

But I think people would be less fond of him if he was Harriet Potter. If he was a girl, and she’d had a sad childhood but risen above it, and she’d found fast friends, and been naturally talented at her school’s only important sport, and saved the day at least seven times. If she’d had most of the boys in the series fancy her, and mention made of boys following her around admiring her. If the only talent she didn’t have was dismissed by her guy friend who did have it. If she was often told by people of her numerous awesome qualities, and was in fact Chosen by Fate to be awesome.

Well, then she’d be just like Harry Potter, but a girl. But I don’t think people would like her as much.

To which I say, indeed. I am noticing this somewhat acutely right now because quite a few people are hating on Micah Wilkins the protagonist of Liar. Now, I will admit as how Micah has rather more flaws than HP. Even aside from being, you know, a liar. But I happen to love Micah, as I do all the characters in my books.1 I’m well aware that I’m not an impartial observer, but I have a sneaking suspicion that were Micah a boy even with all the same flaws s/he would not be attracting such hate. I suspect that there would be a fair few crushes on Micah-the-boy. That he would be considered hot.

As evidence I offer the fact that I’ve already been told by a few people that they have a crush on Zach, who a) is dead and b) is, um, perhaps not the most reliable boyfriend in literary history given that he had an official girlfriend and an unofficial girlfriend. I.e. there’s a strong argument that’s he’s a cheating dog. Yet there are crushes.

Now, what I want to know is how to go about being part of the process of changing this kind of thinking. I was talking about this with a friend and she said I should write books that unpack it. To which I umed and ahhed before realising hours later that I already do. I have worked very hard in all my novels to unpack assumptions about what girls and boys can and can’t do. I have written female jocks, boy fashion obsessives, laconic girls, garrulous boys. I have tried to work against stereotypes at all times.

So does pretty much every working writer that I love. Yet still readers call Isabelle (of Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments trilogy) a “slut” and have crushes on Jace who’s much more slutty than Isabelle. What can we do to shift such sexist assumptions when they’re so deeply ingrained in so many of us? Because even when we write books that challenge such stereotypes, readers put them back into the text by reading Isabelle as a slut and Jace as Hotty McHott Hero. I have done this myself both as a reader and a writer. Our prejudices are so unconscious that they leak out without our knowing it.

Hmmm, I find that I have no cheering conclusion. Feel free to provide one in the comments.

  1. Yes, even Jason Blake and Esmeralda Cansino in the trilogy and Dander Anders in How to Ditch Your Fairy.

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5. Writing Goals Redux

A while ago I posted about my writing goals. I updated it a year ago with the publication of How To Ditch Your Fairy. But now I have published Liar which is in a whole new genre and allows me to cross even more off my lists.

My goals are not stuff like Become NYT Bestselling Author or Win Nobel Prize. Winning prizes and making bestseller lists is not something I can control, but I can control what I write. So that’s what my goals are about. Simple, really.

First the genres:

  • Romance
  • Historical
  • Crime (what some call mysteries)
  • Thriller)
  • Fantasy
  • SF
  • Comedy
  • Horror
  • Mainstream or litfic (you know, Literature: professor has affair with much younger student in the midst of mid-life crisis)
  • Western
  • Problem novel
  • YA

The publication of Liar allows me to knock three genres off that list. Though cheatingly I only just added one of them—problem novel. What? It’s my list! I can add to it if I want whenever I want. I could have added unreliable narrator and pretended it was a genre, too, you know. But I didn’t.

All I have left is western, historical and litfic. I’m writing an historical right now. The western is still aways off but will definitely happen. I also have a couple of ghost stories in mind so horror will also get knocked off. I don’t think I’ll ever manage litfic. Unless you think I can claim Liar as litfic? If more than one of you says I can then I’m crossing it off.

I’m also aiming to publish books that use the following povs:

  • First person
  • Second person
  • Third person limited
  • Omniscient

Why, yes, Liar does allow me to cross off another one: second person. Go, me! And the 1930s novel makes much use of omniscient. I will conquer the entire list! W00t!

And the last list:

  • Standalone
  • Trilogy
  • Series

Which sadly remains unaltered because Liar is a standalone. But I suspect the 1930s novel is a series. Though it might just be another trilogy, which would be really annoying.

My happiness at crossing stuff of my list is great. What have youse lot been crossing off your writing goal lists?

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6. Ebooks of My Novels

This year I’ve been getting more and more people asking about ebook editions of my novels. This is my general response to that query.

First of all: you’re asking the wrong person. My publishers are in charge of the electronic rights to my novels. If you’re curious John Scalzi has more to say on this question. If you’re desperate for ebooks of my stuff bug my publishers, not me. That will be much more effective.

But here’s what I know: Penguin has made electronic editions of Magic Lessons and Magic’s Child available. But for some reason not the first book in that trilogy, Magic or Madness. Apparently they’re working on it. That’s all I know.

Bloomsbury, who publish How To Ditch Your Fairy and Liar, are also working on making them available as ebooks. Possibly it will happen by the end of this year. Again that’s all I know.

I suspect one of the big reasons that my books are not available is that very few teens are reading ebooks and they are the biggest part of my audience. (Bless you all!)

There’s also the fact that those who have converted to ebooks are still a very small part of the market. Tiny even. So there’s no great urgency for my publishers to make my books available. It’s a very new thing for them. Many of the big publishers are still figuring out their approach to ebooks, especially YA and children’s publishers. I’m sure in the next few years, as the ebook market expands, all of my books, and everyone else’s, will be available as a matter of course. But we are just at the beginning of the ebook revolution.

And there you have it: bug them, not me.

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7. Fact-checking, Spelling and Blogs

My blog has no copy editor, no proof reader, and no fact checker. It’s just me. Occasionally I’ll get Scott or one of my friends to proof a post, but not often. They’re busy. Even more rarely my readers will point out errors. Yesterday someone wrote and told me I’d misspelt Count Basie’s name on my bio page. *Blushes*. I was extremely grateful. That mistake had already been there close to a year! Who knows how many more such errors there are all over this blog?

I’m not a great speller and I find proper nouns especially difficult. The copy editors on my last two books, How To Ditch Your Fairy and Liar, found I’d spelled various of the characters names in two or more different ways. I hadn’t noticed. Apparently that’s because spelling is linked to visual memory and mine is crap.1

There are very few blogs out there that are copy edited or proofed or fact checked. Something I frequently forget even though I have a blog myself.

This is just to remind myself to try and be a little bit less credulous.

That is all. Resume your Friday night festivities or Saturday morning frolicks.2

  1. Note that I have no idea where I got that factoid from and no idea if it’s true. Told you I had no fact checker.
  2. Half my audience is back home in Oz and the rest here in the US of A or Europe.

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8. Much Yay

Last week was a very big week for me. I found out that How to Ditch Your Fairy sold in Japan and Liar in France and Germany. (I also had my first lindy hop lesson. Next one is on Tuesday.)

How to Ditch Your Fairy sold to Tokyo Sogensha in Japan, who also publish Diana Wynne Jones. I know it’s tenuous proximity but it makes me happy, okay?

I can’t give more details on the French sale but I can say that my German publisher continues to be Bertelsmann Jugendbuch Verlag, who published the Magic or Madness trilogy in quick succession last year. It’s doing amazingly well over there, which I put down to the glory that is the covers:

Bertelsmann will also be publishing How to Ditch Your Fairy later this year. I met some of the crew over in Bologna last year and they were wonderful. Feels fabulous to have a solid home in Germany, which is one of the biggest book publishing markets in the world. Germans love to read. Bless them.

Sometimes I can’t believe this is real. It took twenty years to find anyone who wanted to publish for my fiction. I never dreamed it would appear in any language other than English. Yet here I am with a whole shelf full of various different editions of my books. Please let this last another twenty years.1 Fingers crossed!

In other yay news, Scott has previewed the final cover of Leviathan. It’s spectacular. And I say that as someone who loved the first version.

  1. Yeah, I’m aware of how great the odds are against that.

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9. My Melbourne Writers Festival Events

Next week I’ll be doing four events at the Melbourne Writers Festival. None of my events are free, alas. Sorry about that! I will work extra hard on these panels to make up for it.1

My Sunday event is part of the adults programming and thus is a bit pricey. You can book your ticket here. However, my other events are part of the under 18 programming and thus are only $6. You can book the U-18 events here.

Event 1
Day: Sunday
Date: 23/08/2009
Time: 4:00 PM
Venue: ACMI 1
Event Name: Taking Over the Grown-Ups Table
Panelists: Isobelle Carmody, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Agnes Nieuwenhuizen
Official Description: Join Justine Larbalestier, Isobelle Carmody and Scott Westerfeld, three authors who have successfully marketed their books to crossover audiences. Join these hugely successful YA authors as they discuss just who they think are reading their books. During this session Text Publishing will also be awarding the 2nd Text Prize.
My Description: This one will be lovely. Agnes Nieuwenhuizen was one of the first people to champion mine and Scott’s books in Australia. She’s the doyenne of YA literature and has made it her business to champion so many wonderful writers. It is impossible not to love her. Isobelle is not only one of Australia’s most talented writers but she lives in two countries just like us. Hers being the Czech Republic and Australia. This will be the first time we’ve ever hung out in Australia. We seem to only see Isobelle at the Bologna Children’s Lit Fair. *Heh hem* I think I have revealed that this will be the wankers’ panel. Ooops.

Event 2
Day: Monday
Date: 24/08/2009
Time: 12:30 PM
Venue: ACMI 1
Event Name: Magical characters.
Panelists: Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Pam Macintyre
Official Description: Justine Larbalestier talks about how she populates her novels with magical characters. In her latest novel: How to Ditch Your Fairy, every character has its own personal fairy. How does Justine come up with her magical ideas? And what does her own personal fairy look like?
My Description: Given that there are no magical characters in any of my books I imagine that we’ll have a lot of fun talking about many other things. (Well, I guess there’s one in the trilogy. I’d tell you who but it would be a spoiler. And no, having magic, does not make you magical. I guess I may have to explain why on the panel.) I can answer the two questions right now: My ideas—magical or not—come from my brain monkeys. My personal fairy looks a lot like the young Genghis Khan.

Event 3
Day: Tuesday
Date: 25/08/2009
Time: 10:00 AM
Venue: BMW Edge, Federation Square
Event Name: Rules of Invention
Panelists: Isobelle Carmody, Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Erin Ritchie
Official Description: What are the rules of invention? How do you make imaginary worlds real? Isobelle Carmody and Justine Labalestier will discuss how they paint new worlds without the brushstrokes. These two wonderful and well-respected fantasy writers will take you elsewhere, effortlessly.
Supported by the Centre for Youth Literature, State Library of Victoria
My Description: Another session with Isabelle! The MWF is totally spoiling me. Yay!

Event 4
Day: Wednesday
Date: 26/08/2009
Time: 10:00 AM
Venue: ACMI 1
Event Name: Magical characters
Panelists: Justine Larbalestier
Chair: Cordelia Rice
Official Description: See Event 2
My Description: See Event 2

  1. Not that I don’t give my all for free events!

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10. Events, I does them

In addition to my Melbourne Writers Festival events—first one is tomorrow with Scott and Isobelle Carmody *squee*—soon I’ll be off on my second US tour. Pretty, exciting, eh?

I just added a few events to the appearances page. So far I have events confirmed (or close to) for Phoenix, Nashville, Memphis, Austin, Seattle, Portland and New York City. I’m especially excited about those first three cities as I’ve never been to any of them before.

Also: Memphis = Gracelands = Justine hyperventilating. For those of who don’t know, yes, I am a daggy Elvis fan. Goes back to when I was very little.

There will be at least one or two more cities on my tour. I’ll let you know which ones as soon as I know. Here’s hoping it’s your city.

Just so you know, I don’t pick where I go. The wonderful publicists at Bloomsbury make those decisions and it largely depends on which book shops, libraries and schools want me to come to talk to them. It could be that I’m not going to your town because no one there asked my publisher to send me. So get mad at your local book shops, schools and libraries, not at me!1

What will I be doing on tour? Talking about Liar, how I came to write it, my thoughts on lying, and the many other things that shaped the book. I’m also happy to talk about my earlier books, especially How To Ditch Your Fairy which comes out in its brand new shiny paperback edition at the same time as Liar debuts in hardcover. In fact, I’ll talk about whatever you want me to talk about. Last year, at one school event all they did was ask me about food. Oh, and to tell them vomit stories. I live to answer your questions.

Here’s hoping I’ll get to meet some more of you over the next few days and months. It’s my favourite part of touring.

  1. Kidding! Book shops, schools and libraries never do anything wrong.

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11. My Silence

Enough of youse lot are wondering what’s up with me not blogging every day that I am driven to offer an explanation for my blog silence of late. A brief explanation: travel, busy, knackered, bad sport karma.

I have many posts brewing or brewed. More on race, writing and publishing (here’s a few links to others. I’m especially loving the Writers Against Racism series on Amy Bowllan’s SLJ blog like this one with Ari of Reading in Color.); a complaint about Being Human (Why does the woman have to be a timid ghost? Wouldn’t it have been much more interesting if she was the werewolf or the vampire? Um, okay no need to write that post.); on re-reading Han Suyin’s A Mountain is Young; the long awaited stalker song post; a response to Sarah Rees Brennan’s wonderful essay on the way female characters get dumped on (hmmm, I think those last two posts may be connected); the art of writing dialogue, and many others.

Feel free to make requests for anything else you’d like me to blog about in the comments.

And for those who keep asking: both Liar and the paperback How To Ditch Your Fairy publish on 29 September. I.e. this very month! I happen to have two copies of HTDYF in its glorious paperback edition. So beautiful. Liar is also already a complete book with brand new dustjacket. I bet they will both start showing up in book shops around or even before the 29th.

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12. First Chapter of HTDYF, Read Aloud!

I have been remiss in mentioning that the US paperback of How To Ditch Your Fairy also makes its appearance on 29 September.1 That’s right, finally FINALLY, the fabulous new US paperback cover will be out there in the wild, available for all who want it.2 I have waxed lyrical about Danielle Delaney’s design before. It truly is the best cover any book of mine has ever received. It captures the spirit of the book, it’s funny, and I adore the colour scheme. Happiness in my eyes!

To celebrate the new cheaper edition of How To Ditch Your Fairy I’m giving you a preview of yet another edition, the audiobook. Twas produced by Bolinda Audio Australia who even gave me a hand in choosing the narrator, Kate Atkinson, who does a splendid job.

Here is the first chapter:

01_How_To_Ditch_Your_Fairy_Chap2

Credits: 00_How_To_Ditch_Your_Fairy_Chap1

I hope you like it as much as I do.

The good news is that the Australian edition is available right now. You can buy the Australian edition here. And the US edition here.

Audiobooks are a whole new thing for me. I’ve never really listened to any before. How many of you listen to them? And when?

  1. It’s already available in paperback in Australia.
  2. I do know some of you prefer the US hardcover and Oz paperback version. Madness!

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13. YA & Girls Playing Sport

Back in early August, Doret Canon of the wonderful blog, The Happy Nappy Bookseller, wrote to thank me for linking to her and ”put in a request for a YA novel featuring girls playing sports. Any sport will do.” I misread her as asking for recommendations for such YA novels when she was in fact asking me to write ‘em. (What can I say August was kind of mental for me.) I was ashamed to discover that all I could think of was Catherine Murdock’s Dairy Queen series and my own How To Ditch Your Fairy. It transpired that Doret knows more about YA sports books than anyone else on the planet. We soon got to talking about books, sport, and YA about girls playing sport.

Justine: What came first for you a love of sport or a love of books?

Doret: Oh, man, that question is hard. I’ve loved sports and books for so long. Though I have to say books.

Justine: Me too. Do you remember the first book you read that was about sport?

Doret: Growing up I didn’t read sports books. It wasn’t until I started to work at a bookstore that I started to combine my love of both. In the mid 90’s a children’s biography of Satchel Paige by Lesa Cline Ransome and James Ransome—that book stopped me cold and said come here. And, I was like Shut Up, a bio on a Negro League Player, here I come. I had to read it right there.

Another biography—Wilma Unlimited (Wilma Rudolph) by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by David Diaz. Again I had to read the book on sight. I loved both biographies and I quickly learned sports and books go so well together.

Justine: How did you come to love sports?

Doret: I get it from my dad who is a big sports watcher himself. Baseball is my first and favorite. Growing up I used to love watching baseball games and giving my dad the scores. Any sports fan knows there is an art to giving the score.

Justine: Absolutely. That’s very similar to how I got into it. Watching cricket in the summer with my family.

Which are you most obsessed with? Or are you an equal opportunity sports lover?

Doret: Yeah, I pretty much enjoy watching any sport. In high school I would set my alarm so I could wake up to watch the Wimbledon finals. At the time I was also really into the NBA and would stay up late to watch West Coast playoff games.

I wasn’t born with the coordination to play but I have the mind for them. The announcer could be speaking Portuguese but I’ll still watch and understand. I’ve just always gotten sports.

Justine: Ah. So you have what I call “sports brain.” You can sit down and pick up any sport lickety split and then you have to be careful not to get addicted. (During the last Olympics I kind of got addicted to handball.)

Are there any sports you don’t like? (I can’t come at golf or American football.)

Doret: What? No American Football? I love the strength of that game. With the Olympics it’s usually volleyball that gets me in. Car Racing. I get the excitement in the last 5 laps but 500? That’s too much.

Justine: American Football seems designed to fit ad breaks on TV. Also I don’t hold with a sport that has entirely different teams to play offense and defense (and where most of the key decisions are made on the sidelines). One of the things I love about cricket is that you get to see players struggling to do something they’re not that good at: i.e. the fast bowler struggling to bat. It’s why I don’t approve of the designated hitter rule in baseball. It’s fun to watch the pitcher struggle with a bat.

I don’t like car racing either. But then I hate cars. Volleyball is awesome. I even like beach volleyball.

Doret: Have you heard of Beach Tennis? Just learned about it last week. Still not sure what I think of it.

American Football designed to fit ad breaks on TV? Man, that’s harsh. Think of football players as position specialists with something to prove. Football players don’t want to let the other side down. That’s especially evident on a 4 and goal play. Both sides are so determined for that one yard, it’s beautiful to watch. We may never agree about Amercan Football but we will always agree about Baseball. Pitchers should hit. I hate the DH rule as well. Some pitchers are actually starting to look halfway decent with a bat. Evolution at work. Did you know, this year in Japan for the first time a female pitcher was called up to the majors? Eri Yoshida, she is 17. I don’t know how she is with a bat but she’s supposed to have a wicked knuckball.

Justine: Well, we’ll have to agree to disagree on Gridiron. Glad you hate the DH rule though.

Beach tennis? Ha! I’ll have to check it out. I love regular tennis. Especially doubles.

Did you have to go searching for YA and middle grade books about girls playing sport?

Doret: A few months back I went on a serious reading kick with book featuring girls who play sports. It started because a sports blog I visit mentioned the 37th anniversary of title IX. The book and sport loving female that I am I didn’t think the anniversary should be ignored. I did have to make an effort to find a lot of the books but it was worth it. I discovered some wonderful new books. Though it’s frustrating that there aren’t more books about girls playing sports. The ones that are out don’t get much exposure. Girls playing and loving sports is not a new concept it goes well beyond 37 years. YA is geared towards girls and maybe even Middle Grade fiction to some extent, yet there’s such a limited amount of books featuring female athletes. I am so over the let’s put a girl on the boys’ team. It’s nice that male authors are recognizing female athletes but it’s not enough. Publishers need to realize girls play and love sports too.

And on a side note—Last year I read a book called Out of His League by Pat Flynn, an Australian author. The main character is a great Rugby player in Australia he moves to Texas to finish high school. He joins the football team and even introduces a few rubgy plays. It was a very fun read. Is it easier to find sports books with girls in Australia?

Justine: I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know whether there are many girl sports books at home. Hopefully people reading the interview will be able to tell us.

Justine: Could you explain a little bit what Title IX is? (Quite a few of my readers aren’t from the US.)

Doret: Explain a little bit about title IX? You didn’t say anything about homework!

Justine: I’m sneaky that way.

Doret: I will happily do it and go for a little extra credit while I am at it. Title IX was passed in the United States in June of 1972. It requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. Title IX extends past the field into the class room. As far as sports goes money must be fairly distributed for boys’ and girls’ teams. Before its passing girls’ schools teams were under funded or completely ignored. Even with the passing of Title IX, many people still dismissed female athletes including tennis champion Bobby Riggs. In Sept 1973 Billie King defeated Bobby Riggs in three sets. 40 million people watched that match know as Battle of the Sexes.

“I just had to play . . . Title IX [the ban on gender discrimination in federally funded educational programs] had just passed, and I . . . wanted to change the hearts and minds of people to match the legislation.”

You gotta love what Billie Jean King said and did. There are some moments in sports that transcend beyond the game. In the U.S. King defeating Riggs is definitely one of those moments.

Justine: You get the extra credit! Thank you.

What do you think of the theory that girls who like sports don’t read? (I’ve had several girls write and tell me that they loved How To Ditch Your Fairy despite all the sport in it. On the other hand, I had another girl write and tell me she loved it because she’s a point guard. She comes from a family of basketball playing twins.) There does seem to be a conviction that girls have zero interest in sports books.

Doret: I haven’t heard that theory. Though I have heard that sports books featuring girls don’t sell. How can girls buy books they don’t know about. I always feel bad when a girl comes into the bookstore still in uniform mind you, searching for sports book and I have nothing to show them. It totally sucks. Also it sends an awful message to girls who play sports, that they must hunt down stories that reflect a big part of who they are. Let’s just hope that sports self esteem is working because under representation is bad for anyone’s psyche.

Justine: You said it. I can’t think of any girl sports books that have sold really well. I’m hoping that’s just ignorance on my part. Can you think of any really popular girl sports books?

Doret: No, you’re right there aren’t any sports books featuring girls that have sold really well. But, they haven’t been given a chance. It seems like such an obvious market and I don’t know why it’s being ignored. There are readers waiting and wanting and I am not just talking about the athletes. There are others like myself who simply enjoy and appreciate the games.

I would like to think the idea that girls don’t like sports is changing. A few years ago I was in a store and saw pink baseball gloves. Last Saturday while waiting for the train I saw a dad tossing a football back and forth with his little girl. They were on their way to a college football game. The other night on ESPN highlights, they showed a dad giving a foul ball to his daughter, she threw the baseball back onto the field. These girls may never play but there is no denying that they being raised to enjoy and appreciate sports. If girls don’t like sports then who are the pink gloves for? If girls don’t like sports, why is the WNBA still around? Hmm I wonder what would happen if a basketball book was marketed to female fans at a WNBA game or a softball book at the Softball World Series.

“For the past several years ESPN has televised the Big League Softball World Series, yet the competition has garnered so much attention that the network has decided to move this year’s final game into prime time television.”

People must be watching (and playing) softball for ESPN to move it to prime time, and it can’t be all men. Woman are all over ESPN as players, fans announcers and analysts. My television is constanly turned to that channel, so the idea that girls don’t like sports sounds ridiculously outdated to me.

Justine: I so agree! The idea that no girls like sports is nuts. Sadly, it persists in publishing. I wonder if it’s part of the whole boys don’t like to read thing. The idea being that boys would rather be outside playing sports (or their X-box). So that even if girls do like sports then they won’t like reading because sports-obsessed kids don’t read. I am unconvinced. Reading and sports are not opposites.

Do you get a lot of girls looking for sports books?

Doret: We get a few girls looking for sport books. Probably more girls aren’t seeking out sports books because they are conditioned not to, a reader can take “no we don’t have anything for you” until they just stop looking. That whole boys don’t read thing is ridiculous as well. Anyone who thinks a sports-obsessed kid wouldn’t like books about sports, has never read a sports book. If they did they’d know sports books are written by fans, athletes and players. They would realize that the best sports books describe the indescrible plays, making fans and players feeling lucky for getting it, and feel sorry for those who don’t.

Justine: So true! Publishers have to be more proactive. If the books aren’t there then people can’t find them, and you’re right, they stop looking. The publishers have to stop using the “there’s no audience” excuse when they have no evidence that that’s true. Drives me nuts.

Doret: Yes, it’s an awful cycle, I always get mad thinking about it.

Justine: I have been very interested to see that many of the reviews of HTDYF did not mention that the book is set at a sports high school and almost all the characters are athletes. The focus is on the fairies.

Doret: I loved the idea of an all sports school in HTDYF. I was very happy at the mention of cricket, don’t get much of that State side. Though I must say I felt teased. There was wonderful talk of cricket in HTDYF but no match. My sports brain was all ready to enjoy a game. I could see reviewers talking over that part of the HTDYF if they only cared more about the fairy aspect. I know sports fans would love the idea of a sports school though they would want more games. Writing that I realize, it must be hard for authors to satisfy all readers, sports related or not.

Justine: It is, indeed, tricky. Though I did fail with HTDYF. There was a lot more sport in the earlier versions but descriptions of games really bogged the book down and I wound up having to cut them. (Much to my sadness.) I found it really interesting that I couldn’t find a way to have it be a true spots novel and also be the novel that it is. I truly did try. I do have plans for a basketball novel—WNBA to be exact—at some point in the future. It’s on the list. (It’s a very long list though.)

Doret: A WNBA novel? Sweet. As much as you love basketball I know it will be great. I used to love basketball until the Knicks wouldn’t stop drafting guards. Bastards, took my joy. Now I just do playoffs and March madness.

Justine: But you could follow the Atlanta Dream! Their transformation this year has been totally amazing. From worst in the league last year to making the playoffs this. And I love their shoot and run style of play. They have Angel McCoutrey (not sure I’m spelling that right. Spelling’s not my strong suit.) who’s been on of the best rookies this year and has a hell of a career ahead of her. Frankly I enjoy the WNBA way more than the NBA. (Though I just watched the worst game ever on ESPN 2. Damn those refs.)

And, yes, the Knicks are a disaster. Have been a disaster ever since they traded Patrick Ewing and Jeff Van Gundy left. They have truly horrendous management.

Doret: Maybe I will watch a few of the playoff games. When the WNBA started the Liberty drafted Rebecca Lobo, (I am from NY) I always thought she was just okay player, and not someone to start a team around sure enough the LA Sparks seemed to win all the time. At the time Atlanta didn’t have a team so I couldn’t watch or go to any games. I do enjoy women’s college ball. Refs can be awful sometimes, all I can do is scream at the TV, and it makes me feel slightly better.

Justine: Ugh. Refs. I mean, yes, it’s a tough job. They don’t get paid enough. And the fans hate them. But I have seen too many games ruined by over officiating. I quite like Lobo as a commentator but, yeah, her pro basketball career was underwhelming. You do not want to get me started on the management of the New York Liberty!

Let’s end on a positive note: What are your five favourite girls playing sports books?

Doret: Boost by Kathy Mackel—Basketball, fans of Murdork’s Diary Queen series will enjoy this.
Soccer Chicks Rule by Dawn FitzGerald—A must for girls who enjoy Meg Cabot and playing on their field of choice.
Keeping Score by Linda Sue Park—Baseball, like me this protagonist isn’t a player, simply a lover of the game.
Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr—Basketball, a very beautiful multi-layered story. It’s one of the few featuring people of color.
A Strong Right Arm by Michelle Green—A biography of Mamie “Peaunt” Johnson. One of three women to play in the Negro Leagues and the only pitcher.

I am going to try and be smooth here and slip in two more, making 7 the new 5:
The Ring by Bobbie Pyron—Boxing and Twenty Miles by Cara Hedley Hockey.
I really enjoyed both books. I love that both have female protagonist playing sports that some wouldn’t consider lady like. No one should be limited by gender or race.

Justine: That’s exactly the note to end on. What Doret said, No one should be limited by gender or race.

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14. Liar and Paperback How To Ditch Your Fairy Release Day!

Yup, it’s finally here. Liar is now officially out in the world in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA! Is it just me or did that take FOREVER?

Also available for the first time today (officially) the audio books of Liar and How To Ditch Your Fairy. As well as the gorgeous US paperback of How To Ditch Your Fairy which as I may have mentioned multiple times is my favourite cover of all time. (Look to your left at the squashed fairy.)

If you can’t afford to buy new books right now, but are desperate to read Liar, I recommend getting your local library to buy a copy (if they haven’t already) or having a friend who owns a copy. That always worked for me.

Happy reading!

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15. Signed books in Toronto

If you want a signed copy of HTDYF and you live in Toronto you should go to Bakka Phoenix Books, a lovely sf bookshop located at 697 Queen Street West. I believe you’ll also find books signed by John Scalzi and Scott Westerfeld.

My history with Bakka Books (as it used to be known) goes back to the 1990s when I was in Toronto doing research for my Phd at the Judith Merril Collection. I spent many hours at Bakka, gossiping with the staff, and feeding my book habit. So it was quite the thrill to be back there and signing my own books. Who’da thunk it?

I was also reminded me of how much I like Toronto. It’s not the prettiest city in the world but who cares when there’s so much cool inventive stuff going on? It totally reminds me of Melbourne. Queen St and Brunswick street bare a very close resemblance. I stumbled into Magpie Designs1 and may have accidentally wound up with some clothes. Can’t be sure.

It was lovely to be reminded even briefly of another of my favourite cities. I could totally live in Toronto.2

  1. Sadly, none of the images on the site are as fabulous as the clothes they have in their shop right now.
  2. Just not in winter.

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16. Zombies + Books of Wonder

I was reading today that the whole zombie v un***rn debate was started by John Green. I’m not going to link to the person who claims that because, you know, I’m not into shaming people. But, EXCUSE ME?!

The mighty zombie versus un****n debate began right here on this blog back in February 2007 with me on the side of zombies and Holly Black on the side of uni***ns. Anyone who says otherwise is a liar or ignorant. Sheesh!

Let’s just say I am not happy that such a slanderous lie is circulating. John Green will be the first to tell you that it began over here.

In less cranky-making news I will be doing an appearance right here in New York City this coming Saturday with a cast of hundreds, including New York Times bestseller Suzanne Collins of Gregor and Hunger Games fame. But as far as I’m concerned the highlight is being on the same bill as Robin Wasserman of Skinned fame. Have you read it yet? If not why not?

You’ll find us here:

Saturday, 15 November, 12:00PM-2:00PM
with William Boniface, P.W. Catanese,
Suzanne Collins, Joanne Dahme,
Daniel Kirk, Dean Lorey, Amanda Marrone,
Ketaki Shriram and Robin Wasserman
Books of Wonder
18 West 18th Street
New York, NY

Who knows? If you join us you might spot some zombies. Or uni***ns. Though I hope not. I hear those single-horned creatures are definitely not toilet trained. I’m just sayin’.

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17. In Texas

So we made it in one piece to sunny, warm Texas. Wow. The weather is so much better here than it was in NYC. Yay that we’re here and not there.

You can catch me and Scott at BookPeople tonight and then you can see me do my thing in San Antonio tomorrow night:

    Wednesday, 19 November 2008, 7:30PM
    With Scott Westerfeld
    BookPeople
    603 N. Lamar
    Austin, Texas

    Thursday, 20 November 2008, 7:00PM
    Barnes & Noble
    Northwoods Shopping Center
    18030 Highway 281 North
    San Antonio, Texas

Hope to see some of you there!

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18. Fun was had at BookPeople

Last night’s event in Austin went splendidly. The folks at BookPeople—Mandy, Topher and Emily were wonderful hosts. Emily mc’d brilliantly and we were asked lots of very smart questions. Many we’d never been asked before. I really like the Actor’s Studio format, which meant there was no awkward oh-noes-there-will-be-no-questions-tonight moments. It was a lot of fun to do an event with Scott again which we haven’t in ages.

And then there was this:

<br />

Rebecca’s superb anti-uni***n T-shirt. Doesn’t she look fabulous? She made me one too! Thank you, Rebecca, it fits perfectly. I’ll be wearing it here at NCTE.

Texas is always so good to me.

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19. BookPeople questions we ran out of time to answer

Our BookPeople event was run like the Actor’s Studio. There was a moderator, Emily, who asked us questions written down earlier by the audience. Unfortunately, we ran out of time and couldn’t answer them all. So here are our answers to the ones we didn’t get to that night.

Be warned: there are some spoilers for Scott’s Uglies books.

Questions for Justine:

Q: Will there be any more books about New Avalon?

A: I don’t plan to write any. Of the next two books I will publish, one is already written—the Liar book—and the other one—set in NYC in the 1930s is under way. If I did get an idea for another book set in New Avalon (where How To Ditch Your Fairy is set) it wouldn’t come out until 2011 at the earliest.

Q: Do schools like New Avalon Sports High really exist?

There are all sports high schools around the world. But I hope they’re not quite as strict as NA Sports High. I didn’t base it on any particular high school. Though I was influence by a doco I saw about girls training to be gymnasts at the AIS (Australian Institute of Sport). I was shocked at the long hours these young girls were training and at how strict their coaches were. Yet they seemed to love it. I remember one girl being asked how she could love such a tough training regime. She looked at the journo asking her the question as if they were crazy: “Are you kidding? I get to go to the Olympics!”

A: Is all the slang a mix of US & Australian or is some of it made up?

I made up the majority the slang, mostly by playing with my thesaurus. Thesauruses are fun! My favourite is “pulchy” for cute or good-looking. I’ve always thought “pulchritudinous” was the most hilarious word ever because it sounds so ugly yet it mean beautiful.

Questions for Scott:

Q: Did Tally and David get together at the end of Extras?

A: It is up to you, the reader, to decide.

Q: Why did you k*** Z***?

A: One of the dumb things Hollywood does is show us wars in which only extras and minor characters get killed. But in real life, everyone is the star of their own movie. So in real wars, everyone who’s killed is someone important—not just an extra or a bit player.

So once I realized that Specials was about a war, I felt it would be dishonest for only minor characters to get killed. Someone important to Tally had to die, and Zane was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Q: How did you find all the thirteen-letter words to use?

A: At first I found them “by hand.” Whenever I ran into a long word I counted the letters, writing it down if it had thirteen letters. But after a while I developed a strange superpower, the ability to spot
tridecalogisms by sight. Then my sister-in-law bought me a crossword dictionary that listed words by length, which was cool. Then finally I found a website that was designed to find words you didn’t know who to spell. I typed in thirteen question marks, and it generated a giant list! (I can’t remember the site name now . . . )

Questions for both Justine and Scott:

Q: Are you friends with any other authors?

Justine: Yes. Loads and loads of them. It’s fabulous. We read each other’s mss. critique them bounce ideas off one another. I’m very lucky.

Scott: We also write at least once a week with several authors: Maureen Johnson, Robin Wasserman, E. Lockhart, Cassandra Clare, Lauren McLaughlin, are the ones who most often show up.

Q: Is there any news on a movie?

Justine: While there’s been some interest in turning How To Ditch Your Fairy into a movie nothing has come of it so far. Trust me, if there’s any news on this front I will sing it from the rooftops. Though I think the Fairy book would make a better TV series than a movie.

Scott: The Uglies movie is still waiting for a script, as far as I know. I think Hollywood doesn’t know how to make a movie about, you know, ugly people.

Peeps is with an independent producer and screenwriter, and So Yesterday is being looked at. More news on that soon (probably).

But no auditions yet!

Q: When brainstorming ideas for your next book do you come up with multiple ideas? How do you choose the one to push forward with?

Justine: I pretty much always have a number of novel ideas to play with. I tend to talk about them with Scott and my agent, Jill, as well as my editor, Melanie, and a few writer friends. I’ve been talking about writing a book about a compulsive liar for ages. Whenever I mentioned it people would get very enthusiastic. I was too afraid to start though cause it seemed like it would be really hard to write (I was right) so I delayed until Scott and Jill and Melanie all ganged up on me.

I guess I let people bully me!

Though honestly all the bullying in the world wouldn’t have gotten me going if I hadn’t finally figured out a way to write the Liar book. So I guess my real answer is that the book that begins to grow and make sense is the one I wind up writing.

Scott: I usually have one idea that I really want to do most. I don’t come to that conclusion by any conscious way; it simply bubbles up in the back of my head as the most interesting idea. I think this ability comes from having written, like, 18 books—I’ve tried lots of ideas, and so am getting better at telling the more productive ones from the boring ones.

Q: Do you have any advice for young writers?

Justine: Loads! You can find some here, here and here. Though all my advice applies to beginning writers of all ages. In a nutshell my advice boils down to:

  • Don’t be in too much of a hurry to get published. Learning to write well is the main thing. If you try to publish before you’re ready you can wind up very discouraged. While you’re learning o write you should have fun with it. Try different styles, different genres, mess about, get your hands dirty!
  • Read A LOT. Read and read and read and read! Think about what books you like best and try to figure out what it is about the writing that works for you. Then give it a go. Think about what books you hated and try to figure out why the writing was such a disaster. Don’t write like that.
  • Write a lot.
  • Learn how to critique other people’s work.
  • Learn how to take criticism. If you want to be a professional writer you’re going to have to learn to take criticism and the sooner you start practicing the better!

Scott: Here’s the “writing advice” category from my blog, including some advice from guest blogger Robin Wasserman: Writing Advice.

Q: Which is your favourite cover?

Justine: I’m assuming you mean of one of my books. I’ve been very lucky I like every single one of my covers. But I think my absolute favourite is the one Cat Sparks did for Daughters of Earth.

Scott: Probably Extras. The fun part was that I got to work on it from the beginning, from choosing the model to picking the final shot.

The full story can be found here.

Q: Why are most of your protagonists girls?

Justine: Er, um. I don’t actually know. It was not by design. The first novel I wrote has multiple viewpoint characters many of whom are boys. My second novel is first person from the point of view of a boy. However, neither of those books sold. My first published novels (the Magic or Madness trilogy) has three view point characters two of whom are girls. And then How To Ditch Your Fairy is first person from the viewpoint of a girl. So far the books I’ve written with more girl characters are the ones my publishers have wanted. We’ll see if that pattern continues.

I don’t really consciously decide to make my main characters girls or boys. Nor do I consciously make them black or white. That’s just the way they are. Once I start getting a sense of their voice I’m learning at the exact same time all those other things about them: their race, gender, ethnicity, opinion of Elvis etc. Hope that makes sense!

Scott: I’ve had a mix of male and female protagonists. So Yesterday and Peeps were both from the point of view of boys, and The Last Days and Midnighters were from both male and female POVs. But I guess more people have read Uglies so Tally has left the strongest impression. Since that series is about the pressures of beauty and looks, I figured that a female protag would make more sense. Certainly, boys do worry about the way they look. But overall, girls are under a lot more pressure to freak out over every zit and extra pound.

Though, as I say in Bogus to Bubbly, I actually did try to write Extras from Hiro’s point of view. But the interesting stuff kept happening to Aya, so I moved her to center stage. I still don’t know exactly how it worked out that way.

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20. Up to date correspondence & the joys of fanmail

I am now almost up to November answering my correspondence. There’s only a hundred more emails to answer! Yay!

If you’ve written to me this year and not heard back from me, that means I either didn’t get your email, or you did not get my response. Either way best thing to do is to write me again.

I received more fan mail this year than all previous years added together. (Which, admittedly, was not hard as I received very few until this year.) Of all the fabulous things that have happened to me in 20081 those letters are by far the best. The majority were about posts and essays on this website—especially requesting writing advice. The next biggest group of letters were about the trilogy, and lastly about How To Ditch Your Fairy. Though to put that in perspective HTDYF has already attracted more letters in the few months since it was published than Magic or Madness did in its first 18 months of publication. Yay, fairy book!

Thank you so much for the wonderful letters. Each one gave me a tremendous lift. Even if I was already in a good mood they made me happier still. While I’ve always wanted to be a writer, until my first book came out, it had never really occurred to me to think about what that would actually mean, about what it would be like to have readers. I know that sounds a bit bizarre, but I was so focussed on my writing, and on getting published, that I just hadn’t considered that part of the equation: that being published means being read by people I’ve never met. I’m glad that part didn’t occur to me ahead of time. I think it would have spooked me. But it turns out to be fabulous.

Thank you for all the letters pointing out the typos and errors in my books and my blog. I really appreciate them and do what I can to fix future editions. Keep ‘em coming!

Thanks to everyone who wrote and begged for more books in the Magic or Madness and HTDYF universes. I’m pretty sure that HTDYF is a standalone and the MorM series a trilogy, but I’m thrilled my books left you wanting more. The best way to get more is to write it yourself. There are gazillions of wonderful fanfic sites out there. You could add your own stories about the further adventures of Tom and Charlie. Go forth and create more fanfic! Mash up MorM with Buffy or Nana. Or HTDYF with Naruto! What would be cooler than that?

Thanks for all the tips on quokkas and mangosteens and cricket and 1930s fashions and photo sites. Much appreciated! Though I’m horrified that any of you are settling for dried mangosteen or mangosteen juice. Ewww. There are no substitutes for the actual fresh fruit!

Good luck with your writing. Yes, sometimes it can be hard and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. That happens to the professionals too. The only thing you can do is keep pushing through. Don’t give up. But remember to have fun with it too. One of the best things about not being published yet is that you have heaps of time to experiment. Write the same story in all the different points of view. See which one works best. Try writing a story backwards. Starting at the end and working your way towards the beginning. Write in lots of different genres. Muck around! Have fun!

Thanks for your letters, your comments, and all your support. It means the world to me.

xo

Justine

  1. Of which more on the last day of the year.

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21. Last day of 2008

Yup, it’s my annual what-I-did-this-year skiting post. I write these mostly for myself so I can easily keep track. Hence the last day of the year category. Thus you are absolutely free to skip it.1

This year was exceptional. I’m still pinching myself. My first Bloomsbury USA book, How To Ditch Your Fairy, was published and seems to be doing well. I was sent on my first book tour, which was fabulous. It’s insane how much fun I had and how many fabulous schools, book shops and libraries I visited in California, Michigan, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Thank you to everyone who came to see me while I was on the road. It was a blast getting to meet you all! I loved hearing what fairies you all have!

Now this is going to sound like the acknowledgments page but bear with me cause I thanked my fabulous editor, Melanie Cecka in print, but not the wonderful publicity and sales and marketing folks because, well, I didn’t know them back then. Deb Shapiro is the best and funniest publicist I’ve ever worked with, Beth Eller is a genius of marketing, and all the sales reps who’ve been flogging the fairy book mercilessly across the USA are too fabulous for words. Extra special thanks to Anne Hellman, Kevin Peters, and Melissa Weisberg.

HTDYF also sold (along with the liar book) to Allen & Unwin in Australia. This is a huge deal because it’s the first time I’ve had a multi-book deal in Australia and A&U publishes many of the best writers in Australia, including Margo Lanagan, Garth Nix, Penni Russon and Lili Wilkinson. My editor and publisher, Jodie Webster, is a joy to work with. So’s Sarah Tran and Erica Wagner and Hilary Reynolds and everyone else on the Alien Onion team. Bless!

Both Bloomsbury and A&U seem even more excited about the liar book than they were about HTDYF. Which is a huge relief to me because, um, it is not the most obvious follow-up to the fairy book. Older, darker, scarier, completely different. Stuff like that. Here’s hoping that not too long into the new year I’ll be sharing the title, the cover, a sneak preview, and other such fabulous things.

The fairy book also sold in Germany to Bertelsmann, who published the Magic or Madness trilogy there and gave it the best covers ever. It was awesome getting to meet the two Suzannes: Krebs and Stark in Bologna. Thank you for believing in my book so strongly that you bought it when it was still in manuscript. I still can’t quite believe it.

Speaking of the trilogy it sold in Korea to Chungeorahm Publishing, which means it’s now published in ten different countries and eight different languages. All of it Whitney Lee’s doing. It’s astonishing to me how well the trilogy is doing more than three years after first publication. Fingers crossed that will continue.

I also had two short stories published. A rarity for me. My last short story was published back in 2004. These two were the first I’d written since then. Short stories are not my thing. They’re so much harder to write than a novel. ““Pashin’ or The Worst Kiss Ever” appeared in First Kiss (Then Tell): A Collection of True Lip-Locked Moments edited by Cylin Busby and was universally declared to be the grossest story ever. “Thinner Than Water” is in Love is Hell edited by Farrin Jacobs. I’m proud of them both for very different reasons. But don’t expect any more. Writing short stories hurt my brain.

Last year I was wise and only aimed to write one novel in 2008. Just as well because that’s all I did this year no stories, no articles, nothing else. I wrote the liar book and began the 1930s book. It’s very clear that I’m a one-book-a-year girl.

I also mentioned in that one-year-ago post that I had three sekrit projects. The first is no longer a secret: the Zombie Versus Unicorn anthology that I’m editing with Holly Black, which marks the first time I’ve edited original fiction. Am I excited? Why, yes, I am. It will be out from Simon & Schuster in 2010 and we’ll be announcing our insanely excellent line up of authors in the new year. Truly, you will die at how great our writers are.

One of the other sekrit projects morphed into a solo project (the 1930s book) and I’m still hoping that the last of the sekrit projects will go ahead some time next year. Here’s looking at you co-conspirator of my last remaining sekrit project! You know who you are.

Next year will be taken up with writing the 1930s book and editing the Zombie v Unicorn antho. The 1930s book is the biggest most ambitious book I’ve tried to write since my very first novel set in ancient Cambodia. I’m loving the researching and writing. Immersing myself in another era is the most fun ever! I think my next ten books will all be set in the 1930s.

My 2009 publications. This is a WAY shorter list than last year:

    September: the liar novel for Bloomsbury USA.

    October: the liar novel for Allen & Unwin.

Yup, just the one novel from me. Sorry! You should also get hold of Cassandra Clare’s City of Glass when it comes out. It’s the final book of the City of Bones trilogy and the best of the three. I read it in one sitting on my computer.2 Then later in the year there’s Robin Wasserman’s sequel to Skinned. You know you want it! Yet another book I read in one go. Also on my computer. Think how much better it will be between actual covers.

Then there’s the three YA debuts I’ve been talking about by Peterfreund, Rees Brennan and Ryan. If you read no other books in 2009 make sure you read those three. I’m also dying to read the sequel to Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger, which was my favourite book of 2007.

Last, but not least, the old man has his first novel in two years, Leviathan. Fully illustrated by the fabulous artist Keith Thompson and better than anything else Scott’s ever written. I’m so proud of him and of this book. You’ll all love it. Seriously, it’s worth the price just for the endpapers!

I travelled way too much this year. Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, the UK, France, Canada, all over the USA, and home to Australia. Again. Looks like the same for next year. I have no idea what to do about that. I guess when you try to live in two different countries at the same time that’s the price. Oh, and lots and lots of offsets. We try to be good.

This is where I usually say that I think the coming year’s going to be fabulous. But this year I’m not sure. The economic news back in the United States has been dire. Friends have lost their jobs, their editor, their imprint. It’s scary in publishing right now and it’s even scarier in many other industries. I really hope good governance in the USA will make a difference world wide. But I just don’t know. I had great hopes for the Rudd government and here he is botching the fight against climate change and trying to put up a filter for the internet in Australia. Ridiculous. Surely Obama’s government will not be so stupid.

Here’s hoping 2009 will see a return to sanity all around the world, but especially here in Australia.

Happy new year!

  1. I would if I were you.
  2. Actually I was lying in bed. Whatever.

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22. HTDYF in Australia

How To Ditch Your Fairy will be published in its shiny new paperback Australian edition next month.

So. Very. Soon.

If you go over to the Allen & Unwin Alien Onion blog you’ll see what it looks like.

And guess what? I’ll be doing a wee bit of a mini Oz book tour. I’m dead excited.

Two of my events are in Melbourne, including the actual book launch:

    22 Feb 2009, 2:00PM - 3:30PM
    Me and Simmone Howell in conversation + cake
    State Library of Victoria - Conference Centre
    328 Swanston Street
    (Entrance 3 on La Trobe Street)
    Melbourne, Victoria
    Go here to book

    24 Feb 2009, 6:30PM
    Australian launch of How To Ditch Your Fairy
    My book will be introduced by the lovely Lili Wilkinson!
    Readings Carlton
    309 Lygon St,
    Carlton, Victoria

Please to come out and see me, oh lovely Melbourne peoples. Bring your friends! Bring your friends’ friends!

Then I’ll be at the Perth Writer’s festival. Not sure of my exact schedule yet, but will post as soon as I know it. I haven’t been to Perth in an age so it will be fun to catch up with my sandgroper friends. Here’s the dates I’ll be there, if not my actual schedule:

There may also be a Sydney event in March, but nothing definite yet. Fingers crossed. I would hate to slight my home town.

Can’t wait to see some of you out and about in the real world.

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23. Perth Writers Festival Thus Far

I shall be brief for the internets is expensive and wobbly.

Organisation: superlative. The PWF crew know that authors are a hapless lot and they have kept us on course and on time. Why, I have not gotten lost or been late for a single event. Bless them all!

I have met too many wonderful writers to name them all but I particularly enjoyed meeting Barry Jonsberg and his wife Nita who love the cricket as much as I do. There was much discussion of the South Africa v Australia and West Indies v England tests that are currently unfolding.

For the first time in my career I wound up talking to under twelve year olds as opposed to over twelve year olds, which was dead interesting. I was asked many questions that I’ve never been asked before. Also my jokes that knock ‘em dead when they’re a bit older did not always fly with the younger set. Fortunately, they laughed at many jokes that hitherto only I have found funny. It made me really want to write a book that skews even younger than How To Ditch Your Fairy. It will involve quokka.

Thanks to everyone who came out to see me. Thanks for the great questions and comments and stories of your fairies and curses. I especially loved the girl who has a sunshine fairy.

And now (for me) it is over and I wend my way back home. Later!

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24. Margo Lanagan and me

Will be chatting tomorrow night at Kinokuniya here in sunny Sydney. We will say many wise and excellent things. If you are within a 500k radius you cannot miss this! Margo is genius! I can do a passable imitation of a genius!1

Here are details:

5 March 2009, 6:00PM
Me and Margo Lanagan in conversation
Books Kinokuniya
Level 2, The Galeries Victoria
500 George St
Sydney NSW

I will have MANY How To Ditch Your Fairy bookmarks. How can you resist such excellent enticements?

See you all tomorrow!

  1. Sort of.

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25. Hardcover versus Paperback Redux

Recently I observed that back home in Australia, the vast majority of books are published in paperback. Hardcovers are exceedingly rare. But here in the US of A there’s a huge emphasis on hardcovers.

When I first asked about it I was told that paperback originals don’t get reviewed. Thus the hardcover is more prestigious because it generates more attention. Many good reviews can lead to awards, and best book of the year listings, and lots of sales. A paperback original goes into the world unheralded and unreviewed and thus disappears into oblivion.

I’m not convinced this is as true as it once was or that prestige is as important as people think it is. I believe that fewer and fewer buyers of books are paying attention to what old media reviewers say. Partly this is because the book review section has been disappearing from newspapers all over the USA, just as newspapers have been disappearing.1 And partly because there is such a long lag time for reviews of YA in old media. Whereas there are blogs, whose reviews I respect and trust, reviewing YA before the books are even out.

How To Ditch Your Fairy is my best selling book. It had very few reviews in old media venues. It’s won no awards, nor been shortlisted for any, and has made precious few best book of the year lists. Magic or Madness won awards, was shortlisted for others, had starred reviews, and was very widely reviewed in old media places and made lots of best book of the year lists. HTDYF has already outsold MorM in hardcover even though it’s been out for five months and MorM’s been out for four years.2 I suspect (hope!) that HTDYF will do better in paperback.3

What HTDYF has had more than any of my other books is a smart publicity and marketing campaign4 that has generated plenty of word of mouth. I’m convinced that the word of mouth has especially been pushed along by all the blog coverage5 While HTDYF didn’t get much old media coverage, it was extremely widely reviewed in new media places. There are so many online reviews I’ve lost track of them all.6

The majority of bloggers don’t care whether a book debuts in hardcover or paperback. They are not going to refuse to review a paperback original because it’s not prestigious enough. They don’t think they’ll be sullied by its mere presence. They just care whether they like it or not. I suspect this partly because that’s how I feel after—all I’m a blogger who sometimes reviews YA—but mostly because I’ve seen it in action.

Debuting in paperback can be an enormous start to a series or a career. Off the top of my head I can think of two series that got a massive kick in the pants because they were paperback debuts: Scott’s Uglies series and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books.7 At US$10 or less the first books in these highly addictive series were cheap, attractively packaged, and there was a less-than-a-year wait for the next book in the series, which was also a cheap paperback. Readers got hooked—at which point the evil publisher switched to hardcover.

Which leads me to the second reason publishers like hardcovers: the profit margin is higher. In order for a paperback to be profitable it has to sell vastly more copies than a hardcover book. How much more? An average royalty for hardcover is 10%, and for paperback 6%. So pbs are a smaller percentage of a smaller amount of money, which means on average you have to sell three times as many to earn out. Let me show you the maths: Say you have a $10 pb, that’s 60c per copy. If the advance was $20,000 you’d have sell more than 33,333 copies to earn out. If your hc retails for $17, you’d only have to sell 11,764 hardcovers.

That’s a huge difference and a big incentive for both publisher and author to want hardcover. In fact, I think this is the only solid argument for going with a hardcover.

However, you’ll only earn out faster if the hardcover sells. When a hc costs close to twice what a pb costs people are less likely to buy them—especially in the middle of a recession.8 Book sales are down across the board in the USA. I predict that if sales keep going the way they are9—hardcovers down; paperbacks down a bit, steady or, in some cases, climbing—we’re going to see a lot more paperback originals.

Overall, that’s probably a good thing, especially for debut authors. And also for series where the books are already written—that way the books can come up cheaply and in quick succession. This has long been a successful formula for romance and mysteries. I won’t be surprised if the USA winds up like Australia and the UK with very few hardcovers at all.10

Here’s one reason it can be a good thing: Guess what frequently happens to books that don’t sell in hardcover? They aren’t published in paperback. They don’t get their second shot. This has happened to many wonderful books, which despite awards and glowing reviews didn’t sell, and thus the publisher decides that a paperback version is not viable. Holly Black’s first book Tithe didn’t sell well in hardcover, but sold spectacularly in paperback. What if her publisher hadn’t taken the risk?

On the other hand, if a book is a paperback original that’s typically the only chance it gets. If it doesn’t do well then that’s it. At least with hardcover a book has a pretty good shot at a second life as a paperback. And often it will go from hc to trade pb to mass market pb. Three chances to go out there and sell.11

As you can see it’s a complicated set of decisions a publisher has to make when they’re figuring out whether to go hardcover or paperback. You have to sell way more copies for pbs to make a profit. But expensive hcs can kill a book. Keep in mind that the majority of books do not earn out.

I’d love to hear what youse lot think. I’m especially interested to hear from those making this decision and from those of you who’ve had different experiences in one format over the other.

  1. And, no, I don’t think that’s a good thing.
  2. Remember though surpassing Magic or Madness’s sales is a very low bar.
  3. Especially with it’s fabulous new cover. Hint: look at the top of the left-hand side bar. Or go here for a bigger view.
  4. Thank you, Bloomsbury!
  5. Bloomsbury was excellent at spreading the ARCs of HTDYF far and wide.
  6. Which, let me tell you, is a marvellous feeling.
  7. Being a paperback series had a lot to do with the success of Gossip Girls, A List, etc.
  8. Or depression or whatever you want to call what the world is experiencing right now.
  9. I know this link leads to an article on sf book sales but all its links go to reports of sales across the board. It was the most recent round up I could find.
  10. Judging from the foreign language editions of mine and Scott’s books I’d say most countries in the world are predominantly paperback.
  11. Though usually the third life in mass market pb is because it sold well in trade.

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